"Johnny..." President Rowley stumbled forward towards me.
"Stay right where you are!" Shukor demanded. The President stopped, holding his hand to his chest, tears beginning to stream down his face. I spoke up to the microphones.
"Listen to me." Shukor went to interrupt me, but when I instinctively held my hand up to her, she surprisingly stopped. "Listen to me everyone!" I continued. "Seventy two years ago, President Rowley... my father, took me along on a routine visit to a refinery. His idea was to train me up to be a council member, a high-ranking official barely below himself in the hierarchy of government. But there were a few things he didn't consider. Firstly, there was too much of my mother in me." I looked at the President and saw more tears struggle through his eyes. "I won't go into what happened to her. But he assumed I would turn out like him... cold, heartless, ruthless... a manipulator of people. A serpent in the body of a man. But he was wrong. From the earliest age I believed in kindness to all. I was the gentle man my father never could be. So when I saw my first sights of the conditions in that refinery, I couldn't remain with him. But I would have had little choice in the matter had our pilot not been an early founder of the resistance. Tim Price, his name was. I had just enough whispered conversations with him whilst my father thought I was examining the shuttle's controls for him and his people to plan a riot. They rescued me from my father. Now I intend to rescue you from him in return."
Amazed by the speech that had just come out of me and surprised even further that I had been allowed to finish it, I stepped back slightly and looked to the sky. After a few awkward moments, Shukor took a step forward.
"Well, heart-warming as that was," she began, "I think it's time we get down to business. We have a world to rebuild here, and let me say as your new ruler, that we will not repeat the mistakes of our predecessors." I was too exhausted to retort again. The crowd were beginning to come around to her, happy to attach to anything that replaced the previous regime. I knew it was lost. We had effected a change, but the whole time we were being played by Shukor and her people. Perhaps she would be some improvement on Rowley. A dictator is still a dictator though. Or so I thought until that moment.
Without any warning, Rowley walked back towards the podium. Shukor's officers all pointed their weapons squarely at him. He continued past the podium, up to the parapet, then turned to face her, leaning with each hand on the wall on either side.
"My Johnny left me." He looked over at Doctor Carol, who was standing with the officers that had defected to the resistance. "Carol..." he said, before looking back at me, "Johnny... Anthony." He pushed himself up, sitting on the edge of the wall. "I've failed this world. I've failed you all. And you, Miss Shukor, will be no better. These people deserve their freedom. These people deserve you, John. Make me proud. Make them proud of both of us. I don't deserve that, but I want it anyway. Give them the world they've never had. Take them into the Union. Be everything I could never be."
Before I could say anything, he was gone. People in the crowd below screamed a few seconds later. It was a long drop.
Shukor walked across to the podium. "A very rousing final speech." Her tone sounded dry, uncommitted. Before she could continue further, a variety of projectiles started making their way up the side of the building towards her. As she stepped back, her arm held over her face, her officers went to the edge and pointed their weapons at the crowd.
From such a height, aiming was difficult, but the density of the crowd made sure that many still suffered. I gestured to my people; many of them went to seize Shukor's officers from behind. They turned from the crowd and a fight erupted. Some used their weapons, but many were forced to resort to close range combat. Shukor was encouraging her officers on. "You'll never win!" She shouted to the crowd. "Our people are everywhere! All the places you'd never think to look! Every city, every town. We've been waiting a very long time." The crowd roared its discontent.
I dropped to the floor as gunfire rang out on the balcony. Shukor's people had the upper hand. Some of them had returned to firing into the crowd. She had joined them. I could hear a rumble. One of them must have a flamethrower, I thought. Then I realised what it really sounded like. I remembered the sound of one of the orbital warships coming down during the fight for Belgravia. She had air support inbound. But it was not a government painted flag that appeared through the clouds this time.
The Union cruiser hovered ominously above the city. The rumble from its engines drowned out all other sound. One by one, Shukor's officers put down their weapons as shuttles began to emerge from the floating leviathan in the sky. The ship was beautifully streamlined for travel in infraspace; technology decades, if not centuries ahead of the best on Weeping Cross. I felt my body come alive with excitement, relief and joy. It finally occurred to me; the Union had received the message and responded straight away after all. They must have been hidden there the whole time, monitoring the situation, waiting for a point where they could intervene bloodlessly. Their earlier reservation didn't matter at all. They were here now, and I was grateful.
General Shukor picked up a high-powered pulse rifle from the ground and walked across to the edge of the balcony. As the shuttles approached, she lofted the weapon over the wall and aimed at the crowd. The aircraft weren't going to arrive quickly enough.
Suddenly, she fell against the wall, before pushing herself back up against it as the weapon tumbled away down the side of the building. She looked over her shoulder, catching my eyes with a haunting glare. Then she was gone. I looked behind me and saw the young man that my father had called 'Carol', holding a smoking laser cutter.
The shuttles were landing throughout the city now, handing out supplies and depositing peacekeeping forces. Doubtless more cruisers were holding position over other population centres across the planet. One of the shuttles swung over the balcony, waited for people to clear the space below then descended in a whine of swivelling engines and thrusters. It contacted the ground with a gentle thud.
The hatch opened.
It was the first time in seven hundred years that a citizen of Weeping Cross had set eyes on a human from another world. It was the first time a free citizen of this world had ever met a citizen of the Planetary Union.
"Mister Johnson?" Asked the diplomat.
"Actually, I'm thinking of going back to Rowley." My reply generated a small chuckle from the crowd below, who were still listening in on everything that was said.
"Mister Anthony Rowley." He waited for me to nod my approval at this new portmanteau of my two identities. "You were the leader of this uprising?"
"I was", I replied. "I am prepared to accept responsibility for all that has occurred as a result."
"Mister Rowley. As the leader of the popular revolt that has deposed an unelected leader, and in lieu of elections until a democratic process can be constructed, the Planetary Union recognises you as the legitimate leader of Weeping Cross. Should you approve, we are prepared to grant your world the status of an ally of the Union, with a view to welcoming you as a fully-fledged Union world once a democratically elected government agrees to this course of action."
I could barely contain myself. I cried a lot that day, for more reasons than most men do in a lifetime. I had caused pain. I had knowingly caused deaths. I had violated virtually all my principals. But for all that I had done, I could now walk down any street in any city on the planet, in fact any street in the Union, a free man, and know that my actions and the things I chose to do had brought about an unprecedented new age for my people. Weeping Cross, after seven centuries of oppression, was now a free world.